Theoretical Background of Leadership

The concept of leadership is founded on three fundamental pillars, namely exemplary conduct, ability to influence (different from controlling) others, and competency in driving change. This blueprint marks the gap between leadership and management. The gap is reflected primarily in the different approaches to the treatment of human subjects within a hierarchical structure of an organization. Organizational operations contend against waves of incessant dynamics that undermine the productivity of the labor force almost invariably. These dynamics include deteriorating social standards, conflicting cultural values, and ideological differences. These factors present critical challenges to leadership where executives are focused on optimizing organizational goal achievement. Indeed, the type, nature, and degree of leadership forms a core part of organizational culture and determine the compliance of staff with the company’s values. Consequently, leaders invoke or blend different leadership styles based on the context and circumstances of operation to optimize worker productivity. These leadership styles are based on various theories that illuminate the significance of adopting a specific leadership approach in a particular environment rather than other styles of leadership.

Literature Review

Transformational Leadership Theory

James McGregor Burns launched the theory of transformational leadership in 1978 from the perspective that positive developments only occur under the auspices of mutual relations between a leader and the followers due to the consequential effects on morality and motivation. A subsequent modification of this theory by B.M Bass and J.B Avalio sought to fit it to the organizational domain (Odumeru & Ifeanyi, 2013). Essentially, transformational leadership hinges on employee stimulation and inspiration to achieve exceptional objectives. This framework directs attention to the developmental interests of the followers. Accordingly, transformative leaders adjust the team’s perception of issues by helping them to approach old challenges with newer effective techniques. As such, transformative leadership focuses on boosting the subjects’ morale and performance by way of inspiration. In doing so, the leader links the person’s sense of self and identity to the common organizational identity and the project.

Elements of Transformational Leadership. There are four major elements of transformational leadership (Shibru & Darshan, 2011). Firstly, transformational leadership draws on charisma and idealized influence. A transformative leader acts admirably, depicts convictions, and makes choices that nudge the follower to identify with them as an exemplary character with a clear set of enviable qualities. Secondly, transformational leadership is fueled by inspirational motivation. In this regard, the leader communicates the organizational vision so decisively that it fascinates and inspires the team with optimism regarding future goals while concomitantly portraying the essence of the existing task.

Thirdly, transformative leadership employs intellectual stimulation to confront assumptions while encouraging and stimulating the creativity of the followers. The leader uses intellectual stimulation to proffer a model for the team to identify its attachment to the leader, organization, colleagues, and the objectives. As such, the team can subdue the difficulties on its way through optimism (Shibru & Darshan, 2011). Finally, individual-oriented attention may well be the major pillar of transformative leadership. While an assessment of the team’s performance is crucial, the transformative leader attends to the individual interests of team members and provides mentorship. Additionally, the leader affords juniors genuine respect and acknowledges their input to the team; however little it may be. This appreciation promotes a spirit of self-fulfillment and worth thus motivating the individual to pursue more growth and achievement (Hardy et al., 2010).

Context-Style Relationship. It is imperative for all sectors to focus on the humanization of leadership to optimize the performance of labor. Nevertheless, transformative leadership is compatible with certain contexts than others. A transformative aspect of leadership bespeaks an environment of constant change and long-term objectives; features that blur the benefits of the project to employees. Consequently, followers may develop distrust or lack the requisite morale for completing challenging tasks that are occasionally accompanied by significant setbacks. After all, the organizational operation may entail subversion, especially from rivals thus underlying the criticality of intellectual stimulation by the leader to rid their teams of doubts and negate assumptions. It is noteworthy that transformations are usually typical of bureaucracy-free contexts that allow strong executive-subordinate relationships and contact.

The technology and sales industries are typical examples of environments that require and are open to direct communication and links between leaders and their followers. Followers in the technology sector, for example, are besieged by incessant innovations and the need for creativity to sustain competitiveness. Beginners and professional alike confront the challenges of generating new ideas to counter rivals with a substantial measure of uncertainty. Under such circumstances, transformative leaders maintain team productivity by inducing confidence and spearheading brainstorming (Ahmad, Abbas, Latif, & Rasheed, 2014). On the other hand, sales teams battle with disappointments and frustrations especially when marketing intangible products such as insurance. Such followers require mentoring and motivation to reach predetermined targets and develop resilience. Cavazotte, Moreno, and Bernardo (2013) recommend transformational leadership for the latter group to play the role of encouraging, guiding, and inspiring individuals to concentrate more on their achievements than disappointments despite the market unpredictability.

Limitations. The transformational leadership theory has various limitations. The first limitation is the ambiguity underlying the theory’s influences and processes. This theory does not establish the connection between such variables as charisma and productivity beyond the subjective adulation that charisma elicits for the leader. Moreover, the theory emphasizes the dyadic level of connection over the relationships across the entire group. As such, this theory does not elucidate such issues as the organization and coordination of personnel intergroup activities to optimize performance. Other weaknesses include the omission of various transformational behaviors and the insufficient specification of situational variables (Odumeru & Ifeanyi, 2013). Despite these limitations, this theory shapes the perception of leadership and its impacts on employee conduct. Specifically, the theory reveals the role of mentoring as a technique for leadership development by exposing employees and getting employees to subscribe to organizational values thus furnishing them with the necessary experience.

Supportive Leadership

The supportive mode of leadership is a subset of the path-goal theory of leadership. In contrast with the superficial implication of its name, supportive leadership focuses more on facilitating the followers’ observable potentiality than adjusting to their level of competency. House (1971) developed the path-goal theory deriving from the research related to the components that best inspire the follower to pursue designated objectives. According to the theory, leadership activates motivation by raising the number and types of benefits that employees get for their services. Moreover, leadership induces motivation by simplifying the means to ends through such activities as training, directing, eliminating obstacles, and making the work appealing to the employee. In other words, this theory explains how leaders assist followers along the process of goal achievement by pinpointing distinct approaches suitable to the follower’s needs and the work situation (Alanazi, Ratyana, Alharthey, & Rasli, 2013).

The supportive leadership style weights the external factual and value-based views of organizations. The style blends a relative measure of the skills of filtering and delegation which entail an adjustment of the approach to suit the situation by adding and balancing value for the organization and leader-follower dyad (Shibru & Darshan, 2011). A supportive leader is cordial, approachable, and one who attends to the interests of the followers. Supportive leaders often divert discretely from their way to make tasks appealing to the novice worker. Most importantly, supportive leadership assigns equality to followers while taking note of the effect that their statuses may have on their output.

The follower’s features are central determinants regarding how and to what degree the leader employs a supportive role. Characteristic features include the need for affiliation, preference for structure, and desire for coordination. Followers with such features prefer supportive leadership due to its complementary aspect that draws on a close leader-follower relationship. The leader, therefore, assigns an individual with tasks that are repetitive and less challenging in an attempt to balance organizational goals with the skill development of the follower. The repetitive aspect of the assignment helps the worker to absorb and develop the required skills while its triviality eliminates the burden of anxiety.

Components of the Path-Goal Theory. The elements of the supportive leadership theory derive from its parent theory – the path-goal theory. These elements include the leader’s behavior, the follower’s features, and the assignment features (Northouse, 2013). The leader’s conduct should especially factor in the follower’s limitations, and extrinsic challenges thus create a balance to build a platform from which the worker can complete the task. This element demands that organizational goals avoid various ineluctable uncertainties. The leader should also develop a suitable leader-follower connection that responds to the needs of their subject for human connection. Finally, the leader has to create assignments that appeal to the follower as a technique of avoiding challenges that derail performance and skill development.

The context-Style Relationship. Drawing on the previous discussion, it is justly conclusive that supportive leadership hardly applies to the corporate context and other environments that involve rapid dynamics and challenges. Supportive leadership is appropriate for instances where the leader can compromise organizational objectives to foster the followers’ welfare. This leadership style is manifested in environments where voluntary workers lead groups to facilitate such dimensions as the health benefits of a community. In these environments, the leader’s behavior is based fundamentally on promoting the followers’ best interests.

Supportive leadership is best suited for the healthcare environment and medical education discipline where weight is added to the importance of showing concern, empathy, trust, respect, and encouragement towards the follower. The growing need for worker empowerment in the nursing field is largely ascribed to the escalating pressure to handle the shortage of workers versus the patients in the healthcare discipline (Shirazi et al., 2014). Leaders of the health industry thus employ supportive leadership by portraying such features as integrity respect, and sincerity towards the team. Patients receiving care in such environments enjoy significant benefits such as cohesion which enables them to fit back into their societies after the health care experience despite disabilities and other health challenges. According to Toseland, and Rivas (2017), supportive leaders design tasks based on the competency of the person who is expected to fulfill them. Nevertheless, these designs should be tailored to the achievement of specific goals.

Limitations. The supportive leadership style has faced criticism especially from advocates of the corporate stakeholder theory. The theory’s set of assumptions about leader-follower conduct and expectations derail its application in the corporate domain. Moreover, the theory is not concise regarding how the compromise-based role of the leader facilitates the follower’s motivation without degrading performance. Finally, this theory is leader-centered and does not explain how the follower contributes to their individual development (Northouse, 2013). Notwithstanding these limitations, supportive leadership is particularly insightful for professions that prioritize the humanization of services for the best interests of the consumer.

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a mainstay of traditional leadership with little focus on followers and more attention on teamwork and organizational goals. Although adaptive leadership does not disregard humanistic values altogether, the style subjugates individual welfare to the goals of the profession expressly. According to the theory of adaptive leadership, leaders contend against two major challenges – the technical and adaptive challenges. Leaders, therefore, have to be authoritative, conscious of the change, and adequately influential to fine-tune the organizational culture to the factors of the external environment through collaborative approaches. Essentially, adaptive leadership recommends diagnosis and centrally-oriented confrontation of changes and challenges (Heifetz, 2006). Additionally, the adaptive leader mobilizes the organization with influence by collaborating and establishing strong alliances to shape organizational culture. Moreover, strategic planning enables the adaptive leader to fit in an environment of unpredictable changes.

Elements of Adaptive Leadership. The technical and adaptive components of adaptive leadership are combined into a whole in four major elements (Heifetz, Grashow & Linsky, 2009; Useem, 2010).

  1. The Subordinate team: the adaptive leader meets their juniors regularly and engages them through such tactics as handshaking and chats. This technique induces confidence in the follower and revives their morale. Regular meetings build a sense of approachability to convince the follower that they do not merely work for but with their leader.
  2. Decision-making: adaptive leaders implement decisions when they are certain that the available backing is adequate to achieve the goal despite the opinion of an individual in the group. This approach involves explicit decisiveness that pressures discontented followers to support the mission based on confidence in the leader’s boldness amidst external challenges.
  3. The mission: organizational mission, group needs, and personal ambitions are placed hierarchically in adaptive leadership with individual needs coming last. An adaptive leader concentrates on mitigating the errors of the follower even when such errors would elevate the leader’s career. This measure follows the realization that the errors of any follower detract from organizational success thus necessitating warnings before mistakes appear.
  4. The strategy: adaptive leaders lay and communicate their strategies clearly without allowing alternatives and room for divergent opinions. It is therefore typical for the leader to instruct followers to conduct various exercises without providing the procedures for execution of the task. This technique allows substantial autonomy for the follower and allows them to innovate and pursue self-actualization in agreement with the precepts of adaptive leadership (Useem, 2010).

Style-Context Relationship. It is fair to conclude from the discussion of the elements of adaptive leadership that this style is suitable for projects that entail rapid change and significant obstacles. Workers in a community context seeking innovative solutions to complicated issues devise inclusive, enabling, and client-centered frameworks driven by a focus on social justice and the need to create value-centered services. These demands require new and flexible frameworks of service delivery that prompt diverse leadership features (Creyton, 2014). As such, adaptive leaders are open to and capable of accommodating changes in the environment. This flexibility requires resilience, innovativeness, charisma, and openness to unfamiliar experiences. Also, the leader engages the follower through shared meaning with a significant sense of purpose and focus. The requisite characteristics of an adaptive leader, therefore, include self-awareness, ability to counsel, and communication effectiveness drawing on flexible problem-solving models. Finally, adaptive leadership necessitates integrity and established morality. This feature allows the adaptive leader to clarify objectives, remain true to their values and beliefs, and balance their interests with the situational variables.

The unpredictability of the business environment especially in domains that draw on technology and are affected by political affairs of different jurisdictions is a challenge for a majority of business executives. Leaders in such environments need to be assertive without compromising the moralistic approach to people management (Northouse, 2013). Businesses in these tempestuous environments survive by creating and revisiting strategies regularly as well as building confidence in the face of exterminating competition. The adaptive leader is therefore clear on desired objectives but afford relative autonomy for the follower to facilitate innovation and shifts from conventional approaches. According to Cojocar (2010), adaptive leadership is also appropriate in the military context with its reliance on strictness, strategy, and command. The military may well be the cradle of this leadership style that lays goals and targets without fixed routes to the achievement of these goals.

Limitations. Adaptive leadership faces little criticism in the realm of research on organizational theory. Existing criticism is, however, significant enough to challenge the application of this leadership style especially in the corporate environment. For instance, this model has been criticized for the paucity of research and evidence indicating its productivity (Northouse, 2013). This weakness creates the impression that adaptive leadership has hardly been reflected with actual outcomes. However controversial the criticism, existing research has not built the foundation on which to test and prove the cause-effect dimension of adaptive leadership. Also, advocates of humanism have demonized adaptive leadership for excessive focus on organizational objectives rather than the humanized face of projects. This criticism elicits controversies as scholars endeavor to strike a balance between individual career satisfaction and corporate benefits. Despite these limitations, the precepts of adaptive leadership have particularly been beneficial in the military environment. Applications of this theory are thus bound to remain in disciplines that focus more on ends other than the means.



The nature of environmental operations and the situation impact of the external and internal environment on the type of leadership that optimizes the productivity of the follower. Different theories have been put forward to explain how leaders can balance the organizational activities and demands with the varying capabilities of their workers to improve the outcome. Transformative leadership concentrates on empowering the followers to boost their competence while supportive leadership focuses on adjusting tasks based on the worker’s abilities. Contrarily, adaptive leadership emphasizes organizational mission and strictness to spur follower into action to achieve predetermined targets. As such, these theories are applicable in different but specific fields where leader-follower relationships can be varied.











Ahmad, F., Abbas, T., Latif, S. & Rasheed, A. (2014). Impact of transformational leadership on employee motivation in telecommunication sector. Journal of Management Policies and Practices, 2(2), 11-25.

Alanazi, T., Ratyana, T., Alharthey, B. & Rasli, A. (2013). Overview of path-goal leadership theory. Jurnal Teknologi (Sciences and Engineering), 64, 49-53.

Cavazotte, F., Moreno, V. & Bernardo, J. (2013). Transformational leaders and work performance: The mediating roles of identification and self-efficacy. BAR, Rio de Janeiro, 10(4), 490-512.

Creyton, M. (2014). Adaptive Leadership: An Approach for Challenging Times. Brisbane: Volunteering Queensland Inc.

Cojocar, W. J. (2010). Adaptive Leadership in the Military Decision Making Process. Military Review, (Nov-Dec.), 23-28.

Hardy, L., Arthur, C. A., Jones, G., Shariff, A., Munnoch, K., Isaacs, I. & Allsopp, A. J. (2010). The relationship between transformational leadership behaviors, psychological, and training outcomes in elite military recruits. The Leadership Quarterly, 21, 20–32.

Heifetz, R. (2006). Anchoring leadership in the work of adaptive progress. In F. Hesselbein & M. Goldsmith, (Eds.). The Leader of the Future 2: Visions Strategies and Practices for the New Era. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Heifetz, R. Grashow, A. & Linsky, M. (2009). The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing your Organization and the World. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Press.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.

Odumeru, J. & Ifeanyi, G. O. (2013). Transformational vs. transactional leadership theories: Evidence in literature. International Review of Management and Business Research, 2(2), 355-361.

Shibru, B. & Darshan, G. M. (2011). Transformational leadership and its relationship with subordinate satisfaction with the leader (The case of leather industry in Ethiopia). Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business, 3(5), 686-697. Retrieved from

Shirazi, M., Emami, A. H., Mirmoosavi, S. J., Alavinia, S. M., Zamanian, H., Fathollahbeigi, F., & Masiello, I. (2014). Contextualization and standardization of the supportive leadership behavior questionnaire based on socio- cognitive theory in Iran. Medical Journal of the Islamic Republic of Iran28, 125.

Toseland, R. W. & Rivas, R. F. (2017). An introduction to group work practice (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Useem, M. (2010). Four lessons in adaptive leadership. Harvard Business Review, (November). Retrieved from

Zabihi, M. & Hashemzehi, R. (2012). The relationship between leadership styles and organizational citizenship behavior. African Journal of Business Management, 6(9), 3310-3319.


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